Tori Swanson is a Vancouver-based artist launching a one-night art show along with Alexa Mazzarello exploring women and body image. Her experiences with anorexia and anxiety form the inspiration for the show which aims to stand for honesty, to surface the inner monologue and the ugly and beautiful narrative we create in relation to our bodies. This is a post she has written about the decision to pose nude.
Have you ever been so in your head that you create a false reality? You tend jump to conclusions, create stories, and pass the blame for your actions. Pulling yourself out of an anxious state is something I’ve been practicing for the last 3 years and for lack of a better words, some deep shit has resurfaced.
My friends know me as a “Yes” person. I am easy going and optimistic…ask me if I want to go skydiving on the weekend and I’ll probably say “Yes”. I’m genuinely down to do anything. On the flipside I tend to lean towards being a people pleaser. I can’t bare the feeling of letting someone down and it’s exactly what people pleasers do. They let themselves down all the time. Being a people-pleaser also means you care what other people think. lot of learning and disappointments have taught me how to control my “Yesses” unless I can 100% follow through, and to say no when I don’t give a F*#!.
A couple weeks ago my roommate and friend held an intervention in my room. They asked me why I was putting so much pressure on myself to run a half marathon. I denied my true intentions and insisted, it’s not a big deal and everyone does it. They brought up countless examples of it taking over my life and inhibiting me from experiencing pleasure. Just like that I said “I quit”. I could feel my shoulders relax and the knot in my tummy untie.
My heart wasn’t into the half marathon and It’s as simple as that. I don’t feel connected to running. I love running, but I don’t LOVE running four times a week. I don’t really have a desire to run 7km, 8km, and long push of 14-18 km on the weekend just to get in shape for one race of 22 km. To be honest, I would rather hike a mountain or lose myself doing yoga.
The reason why I initially signed up for this half marathon was for reasons totally detached from my values. Yoga is getting expensive (prior to Hootsuite, I worked for lululemon for 3 years who also paid for all my workout classes). I chose the economical route and somehow rationally decided my well being wasn’t as important as that extra dime in my pocket. I was still getting over a heartbreak and I needed something to lift my spirits and keep me busy. I was stressed out and needed quick relief from my anxiety.
Running away from myself seemed totally sane.
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I weighed the heaviest since before my anorexic episode when I weighed as low as 100 lbs. I’m not fat, but I’m bigger than what I use to be and it really, really, really, really bothered me. It bothered me so much that I would wake up afraid of looking fat and bloated so my body did just that. I was SO in my head that I thought everyone around knew I was fat that I was scared to leave my house or wear fitted clothing. My moods would flip and I would instantly become the most self critical person. I try to look at myself lovingly in the mirror and I would end up in tears.
I wasted a lot of time thinking about myself, I realize now how vain and self absorbed that is.
My intention was to train for this half marathon and lose a whole bunch of weight so I would feel good, look good, and be happy. My weight didn’t come off, in fact a month and a half into training, and running in total 25 km a week, plus tabata training I ended up gaining weight. I was so confused.
The intervention in my bedroom shed light on my situation. I am SO disconnected from running which means it doesn’t compliment my lifestyle, health or body. It inhibits me from feeling pleasure. I get stressed out thinking about sending myself home from a fun party on a Friday night just to wake up early Saturday and run 16 km. It’s funny how we can be so particular with the way we eat and count every single calorie when ultimately stress will hold us back in life.
The intervention wasn’t the only thing that changed my perspective. I also posed nude in front of a camera. In return, my friend posed nude for me while I sketched her in collaboration for our next art show this July. It’s all about body image, self worth, and bringing the conversations we keep locked up in our minds to the forefront. We shouldn’t be ashamed of our bodies when it has been the only loyal life partner we’ve ever had! So, we recorded ourselves talking negatively and positively about the relationship we have with our body. When we hate it, what we love about it, when we’re self conscious, sex, and men. Our intention is to play the recording when you walk into the exhibit to create a powerful statement.
The whole experience was liberating and honest. I felt very uncomfortable standing in front of a camera with just my lingerie and no makeup. I was more comfortable nude. The anticipation of what to come was eating me alive. I tried to suck in my stomach, stick out my butt and puff up my chest but my art partner called me out every time. She would say “relax your stomach, you look beautiful”. When I was finally nude I could just stand there and say take it or leave it because this is me and now you have seen ALL of me.
My intention with my drawings is to show women that we all have the same physical parts so why do we try to hide it. I want to show you what I look like stripped down to my skin with hopes that you can relate to me and know you’re not alone. Nobody picks apart your features, they look at you as a whole. That’s what I realized standing nude in front of this camera. I felt empowered.
As soon as I saw the finished product of the photos I cried. I sobbed. I became even more body conscious. I wanted to go home and hide. I felt unattractive and helpless, I have tried everything to lose weight and my photos only prove that I’ve gained it. The only thing I could think about was how fat I looked.
I showed my mother, who showed her friends, who showed their children, and her hairdresser, and my therapist who all cried. Each person sent me a beautiful email describing the goose bumps on their skin, the emotional waves that passed through their bodies and how appreciative they were to see me so vulnerable yet so strong at the same time and speaking up for something we all feel. This has given me the strength to try and let go of my own morphed perception of who I think I should be. I’m excited to share my imperfections and make a statement.
Many people struggle with body dysmorphia. Ironically our bodies betray us when we die. We have no control over the way we look. We insist on placing our self worth based on our weight, what we wear, our hair, our makeup and who we want to be. Have you ever seen a dead person? I saw my papa die, as soon as the warmth of his soul evaporated from his body, I no longer recognized him. When we die, our bodies are cold, and lifeless. Our soul is not related to our physical being.
My friend pulled me aside at work, while everyone was enjoying 5 o’clock drinks at the Hootsuite office. I showed her the work. Tears welling in my eyes she grabbed my hand in comfort and shared how proud she was.
She said “you’re going to great lengths to overcome your anxiety and I would never have considered standing nude and then showing hundreds of people at your exhibit this summer. You have jumped from one spectrum of being anorexic to showing your curves and standing for what you want (self acceptance) and who you are.”
Another friend told me that when she looks at me naked, she sees herself. She categorizes body types into 3 types. Women who are overweight, women who are way too thin and women who are normal. She said “Tori, you’re normal. Let it go, there’s something beautiful in knowing who you are and not letting the little stuff get to you.”
Needless to say, after 3 months of neglecting my yoga mat, I have retrieved my path back to peace. I’ve realized that my body is a vehicle to carry my soul and I am letting go of trying to be perfect. I’m going to enjoy what this body can provide for me and that’s freedom.
I always toyed with the meaning of life, what a big message it is to decompose. I’m slowly realizing that we aren’t on this planet to make things happen for us, find our soul mate and fall in love, to accept things we can’t change or to make it a better place. We’re not here to place others’ sufferings before our own and we are not on earth to be judged, tormented or teased.
I challenge you to look deeper than face value. How are you not showing up fully connected in other aspects of your life? Is it a relationship you’re half-assing? Is it a career you don’t truly see yourself doing in the next 5 years? Are you holding back from telling someone how you really feel in hopes that it will disappear?
We’re on earth to experience living, this moment. At any point it’s gone and when we’re so wrapped up in our anxieties, fears, and uncontrollable factors we forget how good it feels to just be present and enjoy what’s in front of us. We don’t have limits, we place limits in front of ourselves. As soon as we realize it, it’s even easier to let things go.
This post was originally published on ToriSwanson.com on June 17, 2015.
About the author: Tori is drawn to bright lives, travel, and adventure and is passionate about having difficult conversations and bringing them to the foreground through art and conversation. She is currently a Social Media Coach at Hootsuite Media Inc
What: Body Thoughts is a collaborative exploration of body image by Alexa Anne and Tori Swanson. The project is to stand for honesty, to surface the inner monologue, the ugly and beautiful narrative we create in relation to our bodies. All images and illustrations were captured in one, two-hour sitting.
When: Thursday, July 23; 7 to 10 p.m.
Location: Vancouver Urban Winery – 55 Dunlevy Avenue, Vancouver
More info: Facebook